Syracuse wore its customary blue jerseys for Saturday's game with Penn State. The solid color letting everyone know which team was playing at home.
Funny thing is Syracuse was the team introduced first, a role usually reserved for the visiting team. Plus, when the Orange players trotted out onto the field at MetLife Stadium they were, for the most part, soundly booed. Sure, the New York Jets, who call the Met home on Sundays throughout the Fall, receive a similar treatment for home games, but, well before kickoff, everyone could tell this wasn't Syracuse and the Orange football team was certainly not at home.
Just check out some of the tweets from the game:
Loud roars for Penn State as both teams take the field.— Brent Axe (@BrentAxeMedia) August 31, 2013
Penn State has huge edge in crowd (70-30 estimate). #Syracuse has edge in music with fans playing Ace of Base in parking lot.— chris carlson (@ccarlsononSU) August 31, 2013
And don't think the fans and the atmosphere didn't enter the minds of the Orange players. Sean Hickey, moving to left tackle this season, told the guys at Syracuse.com Saturday was a road game:
"It was loud," left tackle Sean Hickey said. "It was an away game. It was really loud and sometimes I couldn't hear what Macky (MacPherson's) call was. I'm thinking, 'Anything could be going on and I have no idea, I have to make my best judgment on what gap and what man to block.' It's a little bit of a guessing game."
(And if it wasn't PSU, it seems not many other fans, Syracuse's included, were buying up tickets for this "classic.")
So then the question becomes: Would Syracuse have beaten Penn State had the game actually been played at, you know, home?
It's a question I saw asked, and answered at the same time, in comment sections. A lot of the fans, not all, but a decent portion, seem to think the Dome, with it's hot stale air and sometimes uninviting fans, would have been the intangible advantage Syracuse needed in a close, ugly, game.
The thing is, I have no clue what would have happened had this game been actually been played in Central New York and not some five hours away. Part of me thinks the Orange crowd would have helped get into the heads of the Penn State players, especially the younger inexperienced players like true frosh Christian Hackenberg.
But then I remember the Penn State game from 2008.
I know, I know, things are totally different now. Syracuse has a real coach, has real schemes, there's nothing the same about the program now. But forget the actual game (which is easy to do for most SU fans) and remember the crowd. For myself, I'll never forget tailgaiting and seeing Lion fan and Lion fan walking the streets of Syracuse. You couldn't even have a conversation with someone without saying "What?" because of the Penn State fans in the background yelling, "We are, Penn State!"
And all of that was outside of the Dome. Inside was far worse. I'm not good at guessing crowds, but I'll say it was at least 60-40, if not far worse, PSU fan to SU fan in the stands that hot, muggy day.
Sure SU is a far better program than it was then, but here's guessing the same amount of Penn State fans would have descended on Central New York and the Dome had Saturday's game been played up here.Orange fans, for football, are known for staying home when they could travel to watch their team. Actually, they're known to stay at their literal homes instead of heading to the Dome. Which is why the Penn States, Notre Dames, and other "big time" schools usually feel pretty comfy under the big top.
But I guess the crowd at MetLife was probably nothing more than an irritant for the players and coaching staff, ultimately not the main reason Syracuse lost. Meaning, the same issues would have probably been on display just the same at the Dome. Problems that will likely take care of themselves through time and repetition. And concerning ourselves with what-if's and other issues from one game of a twelve game season is just a waste of time.
Plus, this is not a new debate: playing home games away from home. And it's not going to go away anytime soon. The draw of an NFL stadium and playing on national television (at least for half of the country) is too attractive to players and to recruits. It's a little bit of the Big Time, and even if it can feel like a road game, it's probably a pretty cool feeling playing at the Met. It's inconvenient for the fans, it exposes Syracuse as a little bit of a fraud (Syracuse isn't the NYC area's college team), but in the good outweighs the bad for Daryl Gross, PHD and company.
A necessary evil to get the Orange some continued much needed exposure.
(And if you're wondering, Syracuse has more trips "down state" scheduled. Next year it's Notre Dame (Sept. 27) with another battle with the Irish in 2016 (Sept. 3, 2016). And then there is Yankee Stadium, a place you know SU will eventually figure out how to play in.)
2013 moves on though. And next week there is no debating which is the home team. Northwestern awaits. A program on the rise. One that hasn't typically sold out its home games, but I'm guessing it will be a tough ticket this week. Syracuse fans will just have to wait for September 14, the first true home game of the season.
SU will have the customary colors on for that one too. Orange fans will assuredly drown out any would-be Wagner supporters. Of course, I'm betting even then there will be one more traditional color associated with Syracuse home games: grey of the bleachers.